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Remote Work Arrangement

Posted March 9, 2021

Working remotely is the big topic of 2020 and will extend into 2021 and beyond. It was necessary for so many businesses and people naturally loved it. As such many businesses are delaying and or entirely scrapping any plans to return to the workplace. However, research is starting to show that 100% remote work employees is just not sustainable in the long-term.

What you might gain in productivity you lose in collaboration. Sure, some employees and certain positions were lone-wolves long before COVID. But to simply send everyone home with laptops can have some negative effects regardless of good the Teams call just went.

Downsides to Working Remotely

The human species is a herding animal. We like friends, adult conversations and a sense of belonging. Take a look as Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs… after food, water, shelter, rest and basic safety, humans need intimacy. While you can support relationships with a phone call, a text or a screenshare, true intimacy comes from physical interaction which is hard to come by working from home.

Just think of your crazy cousin Eddie. You have a relationship with him because you have met him… at the family BBQ, at equally nutty Suzie’s wedding and at grandma’s funeral. Talking to Eddie on the phone supports the relationship but it cannot operate in a vacuum. The familial connection is one thing, but physical interaction is what drives the relationship.

Now… think of a customer or a client that you’ve never met face to face… how solid is that relationship? Perhaps it is rock solid… but rock solid based on the limitations of a remote relationship. Can we dispense of the virtual happy hour stuff too… while fun the first two or three times, that quickly showed the entire margs after work crowd how important physical get-togethers truly are.

People have found their best friend at work. People have found a spouse at work. And yes, people have had their affairs at work. Team building and that sense of membership cannot be overlooked.

What about the alter ego effect? Several people unfortunately do not feel fulfilled at home. They might have a slight alter ego at the office where they are perceived as funny… or as intelligent… or as an expert in a field. You don’t necessarily get the full effect with a remote relationship.

More along these lines is the breakdown between work and life balance. Generally, the work-life balance argument is silly. It is akin to trying to convince someone that chocolate is better than vanilla. It is a personal preference. Some people only want to work 40 hours a week. Others want to work until the work is done. Both examples are perfectly fine… everyone has a different fuel… a different reason to get out of bed and a different threshold to kick it and say, “I feel accomplished… now where’s my beer?!”

Another consideration is career visibility. People who are physically visible to the decision-makers are promoted more often and perhaps more swiftly. Fair? Perhaps not, but so is life. Is there data to support this… probably not completely yet. But it just makes sense. You’re a leader… you have a seat at the table that needs filled… who are you going to pick? A webcam version of your rockstar employee, or the cheery always smiling employee with real or perceived capabilities.

Upsides to Working Remotely

Productivity is the largest. Research supports this up and down. Why does someone have 30 drive-by’s at the office from various people with various questions that seemingly need immediate attention… and that same person gets 5 phone calls when working from home? Ah! Go back to the need for intimacy around the office argument above. Makes sense, right? Manufacturing a reason to see the boss in-person is way better than the phone call… and it is harder for your boss to blow you off, right?

working from homeSo… fewer interruptions… quiet time… perhaps some white noise or a favorite TV show… and you have a recipe for being productive.

Flexibility is another benefit. People should not be judged by butts in seats… they should be judged by productivity or output, right? Sure, that doesn’t work for every position. Take an administrative assistant for example. How do you judge productivity? Well, you probably can’t judge when he or she is at the office either so why should it matter?

Back to flexibility… if you get your job done… if no one is complaining about your work quality or quantity, then no one should care about the hours you keep. If you can get twice the work done in half the time, shouldn’t you be able to knock off early? Yes, you should.

How do you fix a toxic locker room in sports? Winning! How do you fix the perception of not working? Producing. Said in another way, if you are a tax accountant then the best deodorant for bad work behavior is getting tax returns out the door.

Employer Considerations

Employees generally found themselves saying “what’s the big deal if I just drag my computer home?” There are several big deals actually… some of it is easily mitigated but others needed exploration by employers across the country.

What about client and workpaper confidentiality? Buildings have locks, biometric readers and security guards for a reason. Think Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible.

What about slips and falls? Don’t laugh. You trip on your way into the home office where you work for your employer, who pays for the broken wrist?

IT people go bonkers with data security and viruses. End points all concentrated behind a secured network still freaks out the calmest IT specialist. Put all those people in their homes with who knows what security, and they lose their minds.

Your home computer breaks… now what? Is it yours? Or is it now de facto the employer’s equipment?

There are many other considerations. Seeing the other points of view is not always easy to do.

Hybrid Model

When COVID hit in early spring of 2020, WCG was already well-positioned. We had employees working remotely from time to time and we had technology to support our operations. We did this from the beginning in 2007 since one of our first employees was on the road a lot as a pilot, and WCG’s clients were scattered all over the world. From Day 1, we had to perfect the long-distance relationship to survive.

Let’s be honest for a bit however. WCG limited remote work to one day a week… and perhaps two if you caught us at a weak moment. It was generally frowned up to do more than one day per week unless there was a compelling reason. Were we old school? Perhaps a little. Were we afraid of losing our identity and our team camaraderie? Yes, of course. All those things!

But COVID caused us to back up the truck so-to-speak, and re-evaluate the remote work arrangement.

At present day, WCG embraces the hybrid remote work model. 2-3 days at home (or wherever you can find some internet) and 2-3 days at the office. And… our employees are also encouraged to split the day up. At times just a change of scenery is all you need. Come into the office until noon-ish, put your fires out, do some walkabouts to check in with various people, and then go home with your projects and other mind-numbing tasks.

We believe strongly in judging and rewarding people for the work they do, and not necessarily the fashion in which they do it.

Having the Right Gear

One of the challenges with remote work is having the right gear. All WCG employees have three monitors on a nice monitor stand… and most people run two of the screens vertically which tends to freak new employees out until they realize the benefits (documents typically scroll vertically). So, if you want to work from home, don’t you want to have a near replica of your office environment? The answer is Yes, of course you do!

At WCG, employees are required to have at least two screens (latop + external monitor = 2 screens). But most of our amazing staff replicate their work setup at home… from three monitors, to a networked desk phone and headset, and down to the stand up desk that we all use at the office (and not some nasty Veridesk… this is a real 6 foot desk from Apex).

And, we help with equipment purchases by selling new gear at cost and financing it over 10 pay checks at 0% interest. We also are cycling away from 24″ monitors in favor of 27″ monitors, and we give those used ones away for free. We are also cycling away from desktops in favor of laptops, so we have a bunch of “good enough computers” that we also give away for free. Desk phones, headsets and cables are provided by us.

Having the right gear is critical to the remote work experience, productivity and ultimately satisfaction!

Rules of the Road

Of course there needs to be guidelines and boundaries to the remote work arrangement (RWA). Here is a snippet from WCG’s employee handbook-

Once eligible, the following process will be followed-

1- Employees will request RWA using a digital form available on the Employee Portal webpage.

2- The employee and his / her manager will review the RWA form and arrive at an informal understanding.

3- The employee’s manager will present the RWA and discussion notes to the Firm’s Managing Partner.

4- The RWA is either denied, approved or approved with modification.

5- If approved, an RWA Agreement is drafted and presented to the employee.

The RWA Agreement will contain conditions, detail normal job duties that the employee is not responsible to perform while working remotely and list the valid RWA workdays. As mentioned with regards to Core Hours, consistency allows other employees to rely on other employees. In addition, the employee will certify that-

1. The request for RWA was initiated by the employee and not a requirement of employment with WCG.

2. The computer used to access WCG applications and data will not be used by any other person except the employee and those authorized by WCG.

3. Anti-virus software will be maintained and active on the computer used to access WCG applications and data.

4. At least two screens will be used when performing job duties for WCG.

5. Adequate internet connectivity will be available when performing job duties for WCG.

6. Only the Allworx desktop phone or the Allworx cell phone application will be used to make or receive phone calls to and from clients.

7. A dedicated space shall be used including one that provides for privacy when speaking with or performing videoconferencing with clients and other WCG employees.

8. Client confidentiality and the safety of WCG data will be maintained at the remote work location.

9. Should a breach of client confidentiality or WCG data safety occur, the above employee will notify his or her management immediately.

10. Clients or prospective clients will not enter the remote work location without prior separate approval from WCG.

11. A dependent care plan including a backup plan which together provides a distraction-free work environment will be maintained except for emergency situations (school closures, sick dependents, etc.).

12. Productivity and quality of work product will remain at current levels or improve.

WCG is a full service consultation and tax preparation firm, and we look forward to working with you!